“Caramel – YUM!”

That was my reaction when the veil was lifted from the secret ingredient table.  

Joseph Sofia Cargill

Joseph Sofia, chocolate specialist and account manager for Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate and a judge at AACT’s Iron Confectioner competition. Photo courtesy of Pam Gesford, Knetchel Laboratories.

The sixth edition of the Iron Confectioner had just begun, and frenzy ensued as both teams began collecting various caramel ingredients to bring back to their workstations.

As the rules dictate, each team of three has just one hour to create three unique confections using the secret ingredient in each one.

The brainchild of Randy Hofberger, principal of R&D Candy Consultants and now president of the American Association of Candy Technologists (AACT), the Iron Confectioner competition marks the closure of the annual AACT National Technical Seminar held in Lincolnshire, Ill.

 “We are an organization of candy people, so what better way to conclude our meeting than with an educational, entertaining confectionery competition that everyone can enjoy?” Hofberger says.

Everyone does get to enjoy it, as the audience can watch each team up close, ask questions, and even get a taste as the teams assemble their impromptu sweets.

This year, it was team Chicago AACT versus team Pennsylvania AACT.

The competition commentator, Tom Hinkemeyer from Knechel Labs, made the event even more exciting as he walked from team to team, taking a closer look at what they were cooking up and providing the audience with updates as the competition progressed.

I was thrilled to help judge the confections, having previously participated in the event as a competitor. I was in excellent company with Peter Greweling, instructor from the Culinary Institute of America, and Michelle Wagner, pastry chef from the Marriott Lincolnshire, as the other judges.

Greweling presented a paper during the conference on layered confections, and everyone had been enjoying Wagner’s desserts during the previous two days of the Seminar.

The Chicago AACT team was led by Michael Gordon from Capol LLC, and his teammates were Dwayne Hallan from Long Grove Confectionery and Kate Jacobsen from Sensient Sweet Flavors.

They created three delicious and beautiful confections within the 60 minutes allowed:

  • a layered piece (dubbed “Caramel Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Vixen”) made with raw cookie dough, caramel, chocolate and wafer cookie
  • a multi-layer caramel apple
  • a caramel butter ganache truffle

As for tor the Pennsylvania team, Caitlin Havey, from Blommer Chocolate, and Hannah Grey, from the Warrell Corp., joined leader Eric Schmoyer, from Barry Callebaut,

When time expired, they presented three impressive confections:

  • a caramel glazed bacon and nut cluster
  • a banana rum caramel truffle
  • a chocolate-coated cracker layered with caramel and fondant

The judges evaluated each team’s entries based on flavor, appearance, presentation and originality. This, of course, meant sampling six delicious treats in one sitting! It was fascinating to see how many ways caramel could be incorporated into confections.

When the scores were tallied, the Pennsylvania team narrowly won 40-39, but the Chicago team won best single confection with their layered “Vixen”.

Joseph Sofia is a chocolate specialist and account manager for Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate. He’s active in a variety of confectionery organizations, including the American Association of Candy Technologists, and is a member of Candy Industry’s Kettle Committee.